Drastic overhauling for Thai Cabinet

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's first Cabinet reshuffle seems to have everything - changes to key posts, musical chair situations for lesser positions, apparent "awards" to some newcomers and suspicious arrivals that stirred whispers of "family business".

The overhaul was typical of her big brother's political style, although some sources claim her "input" this time was bigger than most people think.

Government sources said the Cabinet reshuffle this time served two primary purposes.

The changes at the Finance, Energy and Transport ministries were meant to solve work conflicts or improve performances.

The other changes, it is said, were intended as a rotation to keep everyone equally happy.

Yingluck yesterday admitted that she had submitted the Cabinet reshuffle list for royal endorsement.

A royal command approving the list could be handed down any time, senior government officials say.

According to a tentative list circulated among the media, Defence Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha, a staunch ally of Thaksin, is tipped to become deputy prime minister overseeing security affairs.

Yuthasak's successor is likely to be Transport Minister Sukumpol Suwanathat, also a close ally of Thaksin.

Motives for the purported changes were unclear. Sukumpol was having conflict at work, whereas Yuthasak was seen as getting too close to the military leaders for Thaksin's comfort.

Pheu Thai secretary-general Charupong Ruangsuwan will reportedly take the Transport Minister's seat.

Deputy Prime Minister Police General Kowit Wattana is out of the Cabinet.

The economic circles will have to come to terms with the imminent departure of Finance Minister Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala, whose apparent stance for fiscal and financial discipline was making the "broke" Yingluck government uncomfortable.

Deputy Prime Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong is tipped to serve concurrently as finance minister and relinquish his commerce portfolio to Deputy Finance Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom, an ally of Thaksin's sister Yaowapa.

Kittirat's job as finance minister would be to find money to support the government's post-flood rehabilitation mega-projects and other ambitious spendings.

His fiscal and financial viewpoints were believed to better suit the government's situation than Thirachai's.

Kittiratt had worked closely with Virabongsa Ramangkura, chairman of the strategic committee for reconstruction and future development.

He totally supported Virabongsa's move to make use of the country's international reserves to pay off the Bt1.14-trillion (S$46 billion) debt of the Financial Institutions Development Fund (FIDF), despite strong opposition from Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala and the central bank.

The two sides finally reached a compromise when Kittiratt agreed to delete a controversial clause from the emergency decree. The showdown, however, was seen as Thirachai's swan song.

Kittiratt's first challenge will be to convince the economic and business circles of his ability to work on the fiscal front and be independent.

As someone who will have to be seen as more politically autonomous than any other Cabinet member, his close ties with Yingluck and Thaksin may become a shadow that he has to shake off.

 

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